Guest Post

Here is a Guest Post from a family member. I will not be sharing her name, but I want to share her story with all of you.

I have been thinking about immigration a lot. My father came to the USA in 1905. My mother came in 1922. They came by quotas. I have had no problems with that. I was just happy they could come and that I was born here.

My father came at the age of fifteen because Turkey was in control of Greece and the Turks were taking young Greek boys away from their families to fight for the Turkish army against the Greeks.

My grandmother gave my father a few gold coins and sent him on his way after dark.
My father walked from Kalloni, to the capital city Mytilini. I do not know how many kilometers Kalloni was from Mytilini. I do know that years ago a new road was built and driving time from Kalloni to Mytilini was forty five minutes.

My father came to Haverhill. He got a job for very little pay and lived with other young men from his village. They slept on the floor and were responsible for themselves.

In 1912, he went back to Greece to fight in the Balkan War. After the war, he returned to the United States and never had the chance to go back to Greece because of his commitment to his work.

For the rest of his working life, he worked six days a week from 6:30 until 8-9 o’clock. Sunday was his only day off. He started a grocery store in 1919 and had it until he got sick with heart trouble in 1958 and had to stop. He died in 1963. He probably had 2 or 3 week-long vacations his whole life, at least as far as I can remember.

My father’s life was not too much different from a lot of other young immigrant men of his time. Some of these men became very, very successful. Some, such as my father, were successful enough. My dad bought a triple-decker house, had a Pontiac car with a pull down shade in the back window, and sent his 2 children to college.

Education was the dream of all the Greek people who were early immigrants. Most of them had not had schooling past the second or third grade level. Many immigrants remained blue collar workers all their life. Even still, they recognized that with education, their children would have an easier life than they did.

I was born in the Depression. My father carried a lot of people every week who owed him money for their groceries. They would pay a little every week. My father provided their financial assistance, the government did not – government help and hand-outs did not exist.

People were very proud. They were responsible for themselves. I have heard of stories of mothers making Greek Avgolemono soup with water. No broth, no meat. I heard of another family who would shoot little birds from their 3rd floor tenement to cook for their families. I am sure a lot more stories like these exist.

My father had a salary of $32.00 every week. Two dollars went to my mother to spend as “mad” money – this meant an ice-cream sundae for me every Saturday downtown with my mother.

A government work program existed called the WPA. This was for fathers who needed work. They built buildings, roads, etc; and worked as much as they could to provide for their families. They would work 6 or 7 days a week. They had pride in their work and the families they were raising.

For all my life, I have always referred to my parents as immigrants from Greece, considering myself as the first generation born here. I am very proud of all immigrants and their families and what each has accomplished in the generations.

When my father and contemporaries came, they didn’t speak any English. When they got to Ellis Island, a note was pinned on their jackets with the name of the city they were going to. Life was not easy for them. They were stoned by previous immigrants who no longer found themselves on the bottom rung of the ladder. But my father, and all of the young boys he was with, knew that the U.S. gave them a huge opportunity. They worked hard to be good American citizens. Just being here was enough for them. Very few of them broke a law. As I raised my own family, I would have tears thinking about how my grandparents gave up their children at such young ages, so that they could lead a long and happy life in the U.S. They said goodbye to their children, and never saw them again.

I am so grateful for the opportunity the U.S. gave to my parents and the many Greek immigrants who I grew up alongside. I am also so grateful for the sacrifice my parents and others made for me and my generation.

Now we come to my point. The United States has laws on immigration. Because we are not enforcing these properly, either by people entering illegally over the borders or by not following the expiration of green cards, or visas or how ever— they have stayed here in the U.S. illegally. They are not documented because they are illegally here.

The U.S. cannot afford to open the flood gates to let anyone and everyone that wants to come here, enter. How we are going to solve the problem for the 11 million here illegally I do not know. But we need rules and laws and these have to be enforced.

I feel very badly for people who had to wait to come to the US the proper way.

I hope you can see my point of view in calling people who are not here legally, ILLEGAL!!

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A Real U.S. Immigration Experience

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E-mail Interview with Isabella (not birth name, 28 years old)
8 April 2014

1.  What is your home country?

Macau, China

2.  How old were you when you wanted to come to the United States and why did you want to come?

I wanted to come to the US when I was about 15, and the reasons that I wanted to come was to be fluent in my English so I can be more competitive compared to other people.  To be honest with you, I didn’t give too many thoughts on why I wanted to come.  People back home always believe that someone who goes to school in the Western countries will have a brighter future, so back then, I just thought it would be a good decision to come to the US.

3. What steps did you have to take to get to the U.S. and how hard was it for you to figure out how to take the necessary steps? 

Since I was going to school to the US, I needed to get student visa in order to go to school here.  I actually got rejected two times – 1st time, the US embassy said that my English was not good enough and I needed to take more advanced courses to improve my English.  I think it also had to do with some of the documentation prepared by my high school in Oregon saying that my English was proficient, when in reality, it was the case.  The second time, can’t even remember why it was rejected – probably due to some of the incomplete supporting documentation? The US embassy does require tons of the documentation to prove that you are not intending to come over to the US and stay illegal.  You had to show that your family has sufficient $$$ to support your living in US, and your parents have jobs back home, etc.

4. Once you got to America, what kind of restrictions did the United States place on you as far as travel in and out of the U.S.?

I got lucky – my student visa granted me multiple entries and the visa is valid for 5 years and I can travel in and out of the US whenever I want.  I think people in mainland China tend to get one-year visa and they need to go back home to renew it every year! I know one of my friends in college got a one-year visa with single entry – which means when she leaves the US, she has to apply for another visa.  My friend said that it may have to do with her major (she planned to study biochemistry, which tends to be a sensitive field to be in since 9/11).

5. What is your current immigration status in the U.S.?  Do you have to continually fill out a lot of paper work and/or make applications (such as green card applications)?

I am currently on H1B visa, which is a work visa sponsored by my company.  My work visa is little bit unique than the other work visas, which needs to be first approved by the government through application and other supporting paperwork.  The application and other paperwork are handled by my company’s HR and the immigration law specialists engaged by my company.  I basically just need to provide information to them and they will take care of the rest.  Once the petition is approved by the government, I can take the approved petition and set up an appointment with the US embassy and get the visa stamp processed.

The firm is actually in the process of the sponsoring my green card – I am sure there are tons of applications and paperwork that go along with that, but similar to my H1B visa, they are handled by the immigration law specialists.  I think the green card process will be more time-consuming because there are different phases and I think in each phase, we need to submit different types of paperwork and/or applications.

6. Do you feel discriminated against in the U.S.?

In most cases, I don’t feel being discriminated – although I don’t like when some people trying to mimic how the foreigners speak English with accent.  They know they are just joking, just it makes me feel like they would mimic how I speak too!

7. Do you think the term “illegal alien” or “illegal immigrant” is symbolically degrading or are the people that are saying this making a big deal over something small in the overall scheme of U.S. immigration policy?

I think this term is a definitely symbolically degrading and I also think they are making such a big deal.  Sometimes, I feel like people in this country are insecure and think that the foreigners are stealing their jobs and that’s why they are making such a big deal.

8. Do you have thoughts on ways that you might have felt or would now feel more welcome coming into and staying in the U.S. or has your experience been what you expected?

I think in most of my experiences, I do feel welcomed.  Of course, that really has to do with which people you are dealing with. I feel like people from the West Coast seem to be more welcoming and open to non-white foreigners.  In the East Coast, people tend to be more reserved (except your mom haha). One observation I see is that Americans tend to more open to foreigners coming from Europe – not sure it has to be with the language (coz most people from Europe can speak better English)?

9. Do you see some glaring issues on how the United States looks at immigrants and foreign born people who are trying to make a new life in the United States?

I think people need to be more open-minded about the immigrants and foreign-born people. Most of us who come to the US are hoping to make a better life for us and for our families back home, and in the progress of achieving that goal, we do go through tons of obstacles such as being apart from our families, getting through language barrier, adjusting a new environment, making new friends, etc.

10. Do people from your country emigrate to countries/regions other than the United States and if so, can you comment and how their experience compares to yours in the U.S.?

I do know some people who emigrate to Canada, Australia, and England.  Based on what I heard, it sounds like US definitely has the most strict immigration rules and the immigration process is definitely the most time-consuming.  Take my best friend for an example – he got his master degree in Australia, and because of his master degree (and I am sure there are things that he qualifies), he gets to apply to be a permanent resident (i.e. green card status in US) and I think the process probably only took a year or two.

11. Are you happy being in the U.S. or do you want to go home?

I am definitely torn! I am happy being in here – I love the relatively laid-back lifestyle here and it seem like the quality of life in US is better.  But since my family is back in Macau, sometime I do want to go back home so that I can spend more quality time with them (especially the fact that I came over to US when I was 15!).

Why Do We Use the Word Illegal?

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Our immigration policies are controversial. The topics we are debating may be valid; but, the words we are using in our discussions need to change. We supposedly have 11 million people in the United States with questionable documentation. We refer to this group of people as “illegal aliens” or “illegal immigrants. “ These terms are inhumane and are just another way that the United States divides itself between the “haves” and the “have nots.”

 
As immigration lawyer Shahid Haque-Hausrath explains, when a person is arrested in the United States, our criminal justice system protects his or her innocence until proven guilty. This is why we say a person “allegedly” committed a crime before his or her trial. When we speak of immigrants as “illegal,” we pre-assign guilt to them. We have no idea their status and sometimes they don’t either. The term “illegal alien” implies a level of wrongdoing that is equivalent to criminal behavior. It also implies that this group of people is undesirable to live in the United States. As Eli Wiesel the Nobel Peace Prize winner asks, “human beings can be beautiful or more beautiful… but how can they be illegal?”

 
Our federal immigration laws are very different from the connotation that the terms “illegal alien” and/or “illegal immigrants” imply. Our federal immigration laws say that a person in the United States without proper documentation is considered to have committed a federal misdemeanor infraction, under our civil not our criminal statutes. Many anti-immigration proponents have tried to criminalize undocumented workers, but their efforts have failed. We as a society continue to recognize that we violate basic human rights if we criminalize people fleeing their countries in search of a safer and better life for themselves and their families.

 
At this point, I am not validating whether this group of people should rightfully get to remain in the United States. I am asking the question why we impose such derogatory and inaccurate terms to their already challenging circumstances. Can’t we think of a better term to describe a person who may have entered the United States with proper documentation and is now desperate to remain with family members who still have their necessary papers? Wouldn’t we show our own humanity by stopping the usage of the terms “illegal alien” and “illegal immigrant?” I argue that the term undocumented immigrant more specifically describes the status of this group of people. Before we dismiss them as criminals, we should think twice about the circumstances that brought them to the United States and how complex our immigration system must feel to them.

Lady Liberty – Who Are You Really?

chinese-railroad-workersThe United States takes pride in the fact that we are a country with open arms to immigrants. Since Emma Lazarus’s poem was inscribed on its pedestal, the Statue of Liberty has stood for this ideal. But at times, we seem to have forgotten her words.

Our immigration policies towards people from Asia show our inconsistencies, particularly at the turn of the century, when the largest number of all immigrants, including people from Asia, were coming to America. Today, people from Asia are one of America’s largest immigrant populations. According to the U.S. Census taken in 2010, the Asian population is 14.7 million and the total American population is 308.7 million. That means that roughly 5% of the American population is Asian American. They are admired for their contributions to education, business, and government. At this point in America, we thankfully have no restrictions against people from Asia.

However, this was not always the case. What I find most hard to believe is that at the turn of the century, we were passing some of the most restrictive immigration laws. These laws especially singled out people from Asia.

Before the Civil War, Americans migrated west for jobs in the railroad, mining, logging, fishing, and construction industries. A large population of these workers came from Asia, first China (in 1870, 20% of California’s workforce was of Chinese descent), and also from India, Japan, and Korea. The California Gold Rush also enticed waves of immigrants.

California Chinese Apology

The west’s expansion continued to grow until the Civil War ended. After the war, the country experienced a sharp economic downturn. Between the 1870s and 1880s, immigrants from Asia numbered 123,201. Pressure to restrict immigrants from Asia began to build because people from Asia were taking the jobs that “nativists” wanted, Anti-Chinese riots began to rage. Under this pressure, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which prohibited most immigration and naturalization of Chinese people. At the same time, Americans opposed to people from India, burned down Asian Indian settlements and campaigned against the “Turban tide.” Congress passed laws to strip land ownership from Asian Indians and from people from Japan.

In 1917, after decades of immigrant growth that had helped to fuel our industrial revolution and build our cities, Congress passed the 1917 Barred Zone Act. This prohibited most people from Asia from immigrating to America. The Supreme Court went so far as to say that while Asian Indians were Caucasian, they were not white and therefore could not come to the United States. This famous case was known as U.S. v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923).

After World War II, the United States changed its immigration policies towards people from Asia. Then these immigration laws were changed. By 1965, anti-Asia quotas were lifted and the public sentiment against people from Asia changed.

“Once I thought to write a history of the immigrants in America. Then I discovered that immigrants were American history” (Handlin, 1951). What Handlin was suggesting is that some people in America have not been as welcoming to immigrants as they should have been. Where do we draw the line between original inhabitants and new immigrants? I cannot say that America’s efforts to write its immigration laws in the late 1800s and early 1900s were unjustified. American workers were afraid of losing their jobs. This was based on our faltering economy at the time. The controversy to me is that the Statue of Liberty is supposed to welcome immigrants, but our immigration laws have kept people out. Congress actually passed a law that used the words “barred zone” in its title. This makes me think that as a nation while we were saying one thing, we were clearly acting in a very different way.

My questions: Do we still have these inconsistencies today? How do Americans feel about current immigrants? Finally, what do the words in Emma Lazarus’s poem mean to Americans right now?